Thursday, December 23, 2010

Day 92 (31km): Colombia awaits

Another early morning. Once again we said goodbye to Residencial Alameda and the City of Panama. This time we didn't need to pay any tolls though, for some reason they weren't working. Alberto and I were having a competition to see who could burn the most gas on the way to Girag. I was riding my bike as if it was an R6. I managed to burn through 50+ kms of gas.

The airport was about 20km away from the City. Once you get close to the International airport you keep going, following the signs (or should I say sign) to the cargo area. What a gong show. There was tons of traffic and then Angela (who was leading) pulled over. She had run out of gas. Our siphon hose was too short to take some of our gas so Daryll took my rotopax and drove off to a gas station. He came back and gave Angela some gas so we were back on our way. Then shortly down the road Daryll ran out of gas. He used up the tiny bit of gas he had left in my Rotopax and we were on our way again. 
Running out of gas on the way to Girag
It's kind of weird going to the cargo area. It feels like you are going the wrong way but eventually Girag appeared. It was true, they opened at 7am but if you read between the lines what the person we talked to meant to say was “Yes, we open at 7am but there will be no one there who can help you until at least 8am”. Our delays due to running out of gas didn't slow us down because when we got there we still waited about 30min or so for someone who could help us.
Waiting at Girag

While we were waiting for someone to show up, a guy pulled up on a yellow BMW 1150GS. He exclaimed with astonishment, as he could see our license plates, “Four Canadians?!”. His name was Andre and he was from Quebec. He was all booked up (bike and person to go to Colombia).
Our new french-canadian friend Andre
Once the appropriate people arrived Alberto did all the talking and we were told our bikes would be on the morning flight the next day. We took off the screens and mirrors, and shrink wrapped everything. Prepping the bikes and booking them on a flight was relatively easy. What was hard was trying to pay; It took us over 2 hrs to find someone to take our money. You'd think this would be the easiest step, but no, the 5 of us were just waiting around forever to pay and leave. 
It looks like Shelob, from LOTR, got my bike
Anyways by about 12pm we were saying goodbye to our bikes and leaving them in Girag's capable hands. A short walk from their offices is the Aduana where we had to get out bikes stamped out. This was a painless process. Next step was to get ourselves to the airport. We tried to take a taxi but he wouldn't take the 5 of us. Andre somehow managed to charm his way into a ride in a communications van so we all piled into the back. 
Hitching a ride to the Airport
Since we had no idea when and if our bikes would be flying we could not pre-book plane tickets for ourselves to Colombia. Now we had to fly ourselves, during the Christmas season, to Bogota. There were 3 airlines to choose from: Copa, Avianca and Aires. Aires told us they were booked until mid-January. Avianaca didn't have a counter open yet, so we tried Copa. There were only 6 seats left, and they were standby seats spread over 2 planes. This wasn't ideal so the team split up to try other options. We had adopted Andre by this point and he was proving quite a useful team member. Alberto and Daryll were trying frantically to book tickets online, Angela and I were watching all our stuff, and Andre was working his magic at the counter. Eventually Andre won out and those 6 seats turned from standby to sure things. Five minutes after we had bought the tickets 3 other bikers came in looking for flights. Phew, that was a close one.

We could relax now and wait for our evening flights. We went into the secure area to find a place to relax. Conveniently alcohol samples were on offer so everyone hit up the different counters. One of the counters even had Amarula. Everyone was happy with the alcohol and I was happy with my Subway sandwich. Andre, Alberto and I were on the first flight and Angela and Daryll were on the second flight. Alberto's friend, Beatriz, who we were originally planning to visit in Bogota after we arrived in Cartagena, got a surprise call “change of plans, we are coming in a few hours”. 
Enjoying the free samples
I'm not sure how the flight was since I passed out on the plane. The line to clear customs when we landed was a bit of a nightmare, especially since I was incredibly thirsty. We made it through and at the arrivals area there was Beatriz and her brother, Felipe, waiting for us. She worked her magic and her family graciously accommodated us. The evening was mostly a blur since we were so exhausted. We waited for Daryll and Angela's flight and then Beatriz and Felipe took us, our team of five: Alberto, Naomi, Daryll, Angela and our newest member Andre, to an empty apartment they had originally lined up for Alberto and I's visit. It was late (after midnight) so we were happy to sleep on the floor. All our camping gear was on our bikes but Beatriz brought us some blankets so we could survive the first night.

Panama Final Thoughts:

Navigational signage, and I keep coming back to this because we don't have a GPS so signs are all we have, was terrible. Probably the worst of the trip. It was just completely nonexistent. The only thing we saw on the roads were sponsored signs stating distances so you could infer that whatever towns were listed were somewhere along the road you were on.

I found drivers to be surprisingly friendly and courteous in Panama City. This was a welcomed experience, especially when we were 4 bikes trying to stay together. 

It was cheap to travel, probably because it hasn't hit the tourist radar yet. Plus the fact that the currency is USD means you don't have to worry about getting money changed when you leave.  

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